Jul 07 2014

Invasion of the Billbugs

Published by at 6:12 am under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Billbug on a window (photo by Kate St. John)

A week ago these bugs were everywhere, so many that they made the news.

I noticed them on June 30 when I saw more than twenty tiny dark bugs perched on the outside of my office window.  What bugs were these, why were there so many of them, and why were they on the window?

Other people encountered the bugs too -- at poolsides, on car roofs, in backyards -- and they were scared because the bugs looked like engorged ticks.

Though close in size to ticks, I could tell these were not because:

  • Ticks are Arachnids, related to spiders. They have 8 legs. These bugs have 6.
  • Ticks don't have wings.  These bugs have wings under their elytra (wing covers) and though they weren't flying very much I saw a few of them raise their wing covers and suddenly fly away.
  • Ticks do not have snouts.  These bugs have snouts(!) like inflexible elephants' trunks.
  • Ticks never swarm .. and that's what these bugs were doing.

Using Google and BugGuide.net I narrowed their identity to some sort of snout and bark weevil.  But which one?  And why were there so many of them?

Meanwhile public fear and misunderstanding prompted KDKA to call the Allegheny County Health Department's Entymologist, Bill Todaro for information.  He knew what they were right away: Nut and Acorn Weevils(*). Also called billbugs, they eat only plants, never bite people, and swarm in late June because they're looking for a member of the opposite sex to mate with.

Here's an annotated closeup of one of the billbugs on my office window.  This is a view of his underside because he was outside on the glass.


Billbug as seen through a window (photo by Kate St. John)

Billbug as seen through a window (photo by Kate St. John)

So, they were really nothing to worry about.  They were courting.  We just never noticed them before.


(photos by Kate St. John)

UPDATE 18 June 2015: Ben Coulter and Monica Miller have identified this weevil as Odontopus calceatus, a.k.a. Yellow Poplar Weevil, not Curculio as I read in the paper last year(*).   Don't believe everything you read in the paper!

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Invasion of the Billbugs”

  1. Kemon 07 Jul 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been wondering what the heck these bugs were ever since they showed up in my backyard.

  2. Cris Hamiltonon 07 Jul 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks, Kate! Good to know. I had a few too.

  3. Mary Ann Pikeon 07 Jul 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I was at a Pittsburgh Pirates game a week ago and I must have had a couple of dozen of these things land on me during the game. The one guy behind me was afraid they were ticks and I was trying to tell him they weren’t because, at a minimum, ticks don’t fly, but I don’t think he believed me 🙂

  4. Pamon 13 Jun 2015 at 6:02 pm

    I was just doing a web search to see if I could get any insight to the little black bugs on my sliding glass door. I also feared they were ticks. The picture posted here looks just like the picture I just took LOL good to get an answer !

  5. Kate St. Johnon 13 Jun 2015 at 8:36 pm

    Pam, just this week (June 12-ish) I saw them in Pittsburgh again. They’re back!

  6. Jeweline pisoon 16 Jun 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you for posting this, just yesterday we had them all over the outside of our house!!! I was so scared they were ticks my husband ran straight to the store to get spray!! after doing the lawn and the whole outside today i did around all the inside windows because they were on the inside screen. Afterwards i observed them. Rarley they did show wings !! I thanked the lord! Ticks dont have wings! :):) They look unbelievably close. And they have long looking noses.

  7. Ronon 20 Jun 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Every morning, and throughout the day, for the last week, 100’s on my car, wash them off, more appear. Does anyone know of any product you could apply on car?

  8. Cindy McKimon 08 Aug 2015 at 9:28 pm

    1/8th of an inch at best, six legs, a proboscis with two antenna ending in a small nub, able to climb smooth surfaces to a degree, they don’t bite and I haven’t seen any fly…yet… At first I thought they were Earwigs but I was looking at them without magnification so the antenna looked like the pincers on the behind of an Earwig. I was scared. The body count is high and still counting. Here is my story. It began on July 31st.

    I suddenly saw the floor moving and thought “Oh no! I am going to faint again!!” After taking a seat I realized that it wasn’t moving and I wasn’t going to faint, again. I sat there with the damaged ankle from the last faint and watched the small black bugs crawling rather fast towards my kitchen from the wall where there is a rather significant hole in my home due to my inability to repair it in my condition. The siding was missing and the weather had been very hot and wet.

    For the last week I have been doing body counts. Everyday, three or more times a day I either ride the wheelchair pushing a swifter and wishing I could run the vacuum while controlling the wheelchair. The throw rugs went outside right away and I am glad I have lino, tile and laminate flooring but the section of old wood floor I was so in love with is now a hiding place. Or should I say hundreds of hiding places where they fall into as I sweep. I discovered that turning on the AC keeps them out of my living room and glue traps in the kitchen are attractive for them.

    We sprayed Raid thinking they were roaches. The house is in the woods so bugs are nothing new but these are. The trees around my house got a real shake up from a terrible storm recently, actually a few days before I saw these black specks. All hardwood forest surrounding a home away from home for Billbugs or Acorn Weevils. Being handicapped prior to this recent ankle injury has kept me from removing acorns and leaves for two years and after that last storm…well I always say if nature enters your home you are the only one to blame because nature was there first. As a nature lover and afraid of cancer I hated the idea of spraying but that was before I figured out what they were.

    So, am I right? If so, what do I do? I keep thinking I will suddenly have thousands instead of hundreds. I am ready to bomb the house and spend a week at a hotel. Preferably one without bedbugs..(irony).

  9. Kate St. Johnon 08 Aug 2015 at 10:18 pm

    Cindy, if they are billbugs they will go away when they’re done mating.

  10. Tammyon 23 Jun 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I just found one on my kitchen counter crawling ever so slowly. I have NO idea how it got in our house. ??? I have a picture of it but can’t post it. I was freaking out thinking it too was a tick. Great info I found here on this page. Thank you. But can someone tell me how it got in my house and should I be concerned to look for more?

  11. Kate St. Johnon 23 Jun 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Tammy, billbugs are so tiny they sneak in through the cracks. There’s really no way to stop them.

  12. Laurenon 09 Sep 2017 at 10:28 pm

    Well, one just latched it’s self to my dogs nose! He was having a fit shaking his head like it was hurting. I had to finally remove it, can they hurt a pet in any way?

  13. Kate St. Johnon 10 Sep 2017 at 4:47 am

    Lauren, September doesn’t seem to be the right time of year for a billbug and billbugs don’t latch on to animals … so maybe the bug on your dog’s nose was a tick.

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